Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1437, which reduces the ability of prosecutors to use the “felony murder rule” on those who have been considered murder accomplices in California, giving a second chance for hundreds of individuals serving prison sentences related to homicides they didn't commit. In addition, a process is set up for those who were sentenced under the current law in order to seek re-sentencing.
According to the current state law, a person can be held accountable for homicide if it happens during the commission of a felony—despite the fact they weren't there when the death occurred or unaware of the killing. In other words, an individual can be charged with first-degree homicide if a fatality was the result of certain felonies.
SB 1437 diminishes the rule to make sure criminals are charged for the appropriate crimes they commit. Individuals can only be convicted of felony murder if they helped assist a murder directly or if they were a significant participant in the underlying felony and their actions were severely reckless to a person's life.
Hawaii, Kentucky, Arkansas, Michigan, and Massachusetts also have laws which narrow the scope of the felony murder rule.
Supporters of the new law, which goes into effect next year, say that the current rule has a negative impact on women, minorities, and young people, believing the change only hold those solely responsible for the death accountable. Those who oppose, such as law enforcement agencies, are concerned that criminals will become free without accepting responsibility for their actions.